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French president's complex personal life on view

January 14, 2014
Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — The French president's complex personal life — and what it means to be the first lady in modern society — may get a full airing on Tuesday as Francois Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress.

Hollande's partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when the tabloid Closer published photos it said proved Hollande's liaison with Julie Gayet. The pictures included one of a man it said was Hollande being ferried by motorcycle to an apartment where Gayet waited.

Twenty years ago, the same photographer, Sebastien Valiela, rocked France's political establishment with images that revealed the secret family of then-President Francois Mitterrand, showing the Socialist leader emerging from a restaurant with the daughter he had never acknowledged.

Hollande is due to give his annual news conference Tuesday afternoon, and though he may want to discuss policy and the economy, he will certainly face questions about the alleged affair.

It even reached the floor of parliament Tuesday. A leading legislator from the opposition conservative UMP party accused the president of taking unreasonable risks with his security.

"The president is not a normal citizen during his term. He is the chief of our armies. He is the keystone of our institutions. His protection should not suffer from any amateurism," Jacob said in the National Assembly. "The president should be aware of the level of responsibility that he exercises, be aware that his role is greater than his person, and be aware that he incarnates the image of France in the eyes of the world."

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tried to defend his boss, insisting that Hollande "has only one concern ... the future of France, the return to growth, the fight for jobs" and that the debate about his private life "isn't worthy of a great democracy."

Photographer Valiela said he was surprised at the lack of security for Hollande, whose government has been repeatedly threatened by al-Qaida.

"To go to the rendezvous with Julie Gayet, he was taking some risks," he told RTL. "As soon as he got into the apartment, his guards left."

The latest revelations call into question whether a complex personal life can be private for someone with round-the-clock bodyguards, and about the role of "first lady" in France. Trierweiler is the first person to hold the post who was not married to the president.

Francois Rebsamen, a Socialist lawmaker who counts himself among Hollande's friends, said the revelations showed the entire idea of a first lady was obsolete.

"Francois Hollande himself said it at one point: You elect a person. And then this person can live alone, can be single, can live with another man or a woman. It's no one's business and it doesn't come into play," he told RTL radio on Tuesday.

Hollande, who has four children from a previous relationship with a leading politician, was elected as a "Monsieur Normal" in a backlash against his flamboyant predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Dominique Moisi, a French political analyst, said Hollande — who was already the most unpopular president in modern French history before the recent revelations — had brought the scrutiny on himself.

"He wanted to impress the French with the fact that he was a normal man, that he was a man of dignity, simplicity, moral rigor," he said. "Suddenly the French are discovering that he is like others, but in a less glorious manner, even a ridiculous manner."

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

 
 

 

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